Garden School:

Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and water management

Monday, 20 June 2016

Salix Kilmarnock: One Last Chance

Further to my various posts on this topic - starting with one back in July 2014 when I first round and rescued a very neglected Salix caprea 'Kilmarnock' on a local industrial estate, then another article about Pruning of Small Weeping Trees, which covered Weeping Pear - a lady called Maria e-mailed me, and asked me whether her 'Kilmarnock' was dead, as it had no leaves on it.

This is in early June, and no matter whereabouts in the UK Maria's tree is, it really ought to have leaves on it by now! I asked her for photos of the tree, and here it is:

Oh dear.

This looks like a dead tree.

If you look closely at the head of branches, can you see how many of them are a pale brown, straw-like colour?

That means they are absolutely, definitely, dead.

Three years ago, if I'd been presented with a tree like this, I would have immediately told the Client that it was dead, and to dig it up and throw it away. However, after my experience with rescuing the one on the Industrial Estate, I do now suggest giving them a second chance, and here are the instructions for Maria, and for anyone else with something which looks like this in the middle of June.

Firstly, get yourself out there with a a pair of sharp secateurs, and look closely at each branch individually. Is it a pale, straw colour? If so, it's dead. Start at the tip, and work your way up the branch, cutting off whatever is dead. If the colour changes - you can usually see a firmly defined tide-mark of a different colour - then hooray, it might have some life left in it, so cut that branch back to just barely above the tide-mark, and move on to the next one.

At the end of this, you should be ankle-deep in dead brown twigs, and the tree is probably a pathetic-looking stump with a knot of stout growth at the top, and quite possibly no springing, weeping, growth at all.

At this point I would remind you of what was left of the "guerrilla gardening" Kilmarnock:

...not a great deal more than I would expect Maria to have - although in this case, there were six or seven branches which were clearly alive.

So, having massacred all the dead stuff off, I would suggest you clear away all the dead material, ensure that there is a small clear space around the foot of the tree - trees don't like competition, especially from grass - and then give it a good feed.

What does that mean? Look in the shed and see if you have any "Growmore" balanced feed. It can be in granules or powder, or in a bottle. If it is granules or powder, take a small handful and scatter it in a circle around the base of the tree, not actually touching the trunk: take a small hand tool such as a fork, and fluff up the soil where the fertiliser has landed. This helps it to get down into the soil rather than being washed away sideways. Then water it - give it about one watering-can full of water. If you have a water butt, use that: if not, fill the can at the tap and let it sit there for 10-20 minutes to allow the chlorine to evaporate, and to allow the water to reach the same temperature as the outside. The poor tree has suffered enough, no need to shock it further with icy cold chlorinated water!

If the Growmore is liquid, or if you have any liquid Seaweed feed, get the watering can full of water as described, and tip in the right amount of concentrated liquid feed - read the label, and don't be tempted to make it double strength. Then slowly water around the trunk, trying not to splash it up the trunk. If the water runs away across the top of the soil, stop: get a small hand tool and fluff up the surface of the soil. Then start watering again, slowly, and let each slosh sink down before tipping on a bit more. This is all to ensure that the water - and the fertiliser - go down, into the roots of this tree, and not sideways into the roots of the grass and the other plants nearby.

Give it another watering can full of water every day for a fortnight or so, then look very carefully at the remaining top growth. If you can see tiny buds, or better still, actual leaves, then hooray! it's alive!

If not, it's dead, dig it up and throw it away. Buy a new one if you want to replace it - it's perfectly ok to replant the same tree in the same spot, as Willows don't suffer from replant sickness the way roses do.

However, one word of caution: take a step back and look at the place where you planted it, to see if you can see a reason why the original one died. Is it so deeply overshadowed by other trees or by buildings that it can barely see the light of day? If this is the case, the replacement will probably die as well.  Is it so close to a wall of the house that it doesn't get any water?  If so, you will need to pay a lot more attention to the replacement, you might need to water it every week.

If you decide that there is no particular reason why the first one died, give the second one a better chance by enriching the soil before you plant. This means digging an overlarge hole for it: tip in some home-made compost if you have any, or buy a bag or two of farmyard manure (don't use multi-purpose compost, it is too "light" for planting trees), tip that into the hole, and dig and turn it until it is well mixed in. Then lift out enough of it to get the new tree into the hole, and use what you just lifted out to backfill and firm in the new tree.

Kilmarnock, being small, don't usually require staking unless the site is particularly windy.

So there is the Action Plan, for Maria and for anyone else in this situation: give it One Last Chance by trimming off the dead wood, clearing around the base, feeding and watering it. And if all this fails, then it might be time to replace it.....

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

When is a sculpture not a sculpture?

I was walking round a garden centre's outbuilding section the other week, and was struck by the very arty arrangement of enormous chunks of tree trunk, plonked in amongst the display of sheds and outhouses, and beautifully mulched in gravel:

 Rather lovely, aren't they?

 And then I looked a little closer at one of them....

Yes, it's growing.

They all were.

So when the garden centre expanded its outside display area, they must have simply chopped off the wonderful mature Aspens where they stood, and just built the display area around them.

(Although there might have been additional trees which were more "in the way" and were cut right down to ground level and ground out, I suppose.)

I wonder if they realise that in a year or two, they'll have some very short pollarded trees growing in their display area!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Compost: how it sinks down

I often find myself telling people that their compost heaps will "sink" as they rot, and often, they don't quite believe me, or they don't quite understand what I mean.

So here is a pair of photos to illustrate how much a compost heap can sink in a week.

Exhibit A:

Last week, here it is, piled up to the rafters.

Much of the material is sopping wet, hence the mud splashed all over the front of the grid.

(And I would just draw your attention to the right-hand pen, and the mass of beautiful compost waiting to be used, and do please admire how neat and tidy it all is.)

Now, exactly seven days later, you can see just how much it has sunk over that time - it's at least a foot lower than it was.

Good thing too - as you can see, there are barrowloads more of material to go onto it!

(And yes, this is a two-wheelbarrow garden. Lucky me!)

So there you have it, that's how much a compost heap can sink in just a week!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Woodland tidy up

Last week I had one of those jobs that makes me grin with glee - the Client asked me, very tentatively, if I would be prepared to "have a go" at the Woodland Glade: but only if it was okay with me?

OK with me? Let me at it!!

To explain, at this particular garden I am normally managing the herbaceous borders and the Herb Garden, which is not exactly what I would call lightweight gardening - none of my work is what I would call lightweight, to be honest - but the Woodland Glade is another level of work altogether.

It is not very big: just a grove of very ordinary trees - Field Maple, Sycamore, Hawthorn, Ash, some Yew, a ton of ivy, and an old paved path running through the middle. Over the years it has been a bit neglected, and now the path is very narrow, the ivy is very dense, there is a strong underplanting of nettles and brambles, and frankly it has turned from "Pretty Woodland Glade" to "Eeyore's Gloomy Place" so I was sent in for the morning, to sort it out.

Here is the "before" picture: to be honest, I think it has a certain "Sleeping Beauty" charm of its own, but I can see the point that it's not as inviting as it could be.

Not to mention those nettles and brambles.

First job: clear the path.

That was easy enough, just pull and chop the ivy: pull it out of the actual path, digging out the roots where it was infiltrating the gaps, then cut off long streamers that were meandering across the edge.

My aim was to leave just enough to soften the stone edging, but removing all the trip hazards. Once I could see the path properly, it needed a bit of intensive weeding in the gaps between the slabs, and a good sweeping.

Next job: deal with the vicious underplanting. Nettles are easily removed, brambles need a bit of digging, but they weren't too bad and didn't take that long to get rid of.

Now that I could move around under the trees, it was time to remove ivy from the trunks.

Ivy on the ground under the trees is sort of acceptable, I suppose (grudgingly) and is a lot cheaper in money and time than doing a decorative underplanting, which would then require maintenance to keep it lovely. But ivy up trees is unforgivable: it makes the trees top heavy, stressing their structure: it covers their lenticels, making it harder for them to "breathe", it hosts a myriad of insects, many of which are not good for trees, and which damage the bark: in winter, when the tree expects to be bare, it is instead still fully clothed, and the ivy acts as not only as a sail to catch the wind, which causes damage to the tree and the roots, but also it holds on to rain, creating damp microclimates all around the trunk and branches, which is not a good thing.

And it's ugly! And full of dust! I love to see the shapes of trees, the trunk, the bark, the way the branches come out at different angles - so much to look at. But when covered in ivy, all you have is an amorphous blob, which sheds dust and debris on you.

So, for all these reasons, Out With Ivy!

Once the worst of the ivy was gone, I could see a few dead branches and one entire dead tree, so they were snipped, lopped, and sawn off, heaved out and trundled up to the bonfire pile. Then there was time for a little cosmetic work, trimming back a few overhanging branches to allow a bit more air and light in, while retaining the rather nice "enclosed" feeling.

By now, the path itself had dried out somewhat, so it had another good sweeping, and lo! and behold:

Much better!